Archive for December, 2007
Before 2008 arrives I want to post this picture of Berlin because it shows one of the best moments of 2007 for me: saving the planet on a family weekend to celebrate my birthday with the boys in the most exciting city I have been to, what on earth could be better.
We coincided with a huge climate change protest, joined a lantern march urging Angela Merkel to do the right thing at the Bali summit, rocked with great bands at the Brandenburg Gate, slept in a smart apartment once inhabited by punk squatters after the wall came down, walked silently through the concrete alleys of the Holocaust Museum, and wandered the streets of East Berlin decorated with so much wild and wonderful graffiti that I came home with an adolescent urge to spray paint the posh parts of Edinburgh, starting with the Royal Scottish Academy.
After all that, despite all the Christmas glitter and the spicy German market, poor old Edinburgh does seem very staid and far too smug.
Admittedly, Berlin shows signs of succumbing to affluence. Even in the four years since our first visit, the wasteland of the cold war has been reclaimed by gleaming monuments to capitalism. Potsdammer Platz is as glitzy as any other cosmopolitan city centre. But the revolutionary spirit lives on in the east. ‘Fuck yuppyz’ says the writing on the wall in one old apartment block. Nearby, another tenement has been restored and stands like a sign of things to come in Prenzlauerberg (one of the fast gentrifying areas of the old bohemian quarters of the city). But even here some agile graffiti artist, with a head for heights and a long rope, has added a touch of genius. At the top of the tall building in bold black on the fresh new pale orange paint are the words ‘rock and roll’.
Cunning entrepreneurs are quick to copy the anarchist style. On his state of the art Nokia Dougal took a picture of a beautifully executed graffiti mural sponsored by, guess who, Nokia. But I am sure someone will reclaim it for the street. I like to think that having survived communism, this generation of free thinking, free spirited young people will continue to rebel against our Western conformism. Who needs mass produced fashion among so much individual style.
So happy new year to Berlin. I hope your revolutionary spirit lasts for ever. Now I better go pack.
December 31st, 2007
I wonder if this can last. Before Christmas I made myself a promise that I would not get caught up in the panic of shopping for things I didn’t need in places I didn’t want to be. Now it is almost 2008 and I have more or less succeeded. I spent plenty of course – and probably bought things that weren’t needed – but never in places I didn’t want to be. I shopped online and stayed well away from chain stores. Only once did I stray into John Lewis and the place was so choked with shoppers I could see why they are crowing about record sales and decided they certainly didn’t need any extra help from me.
I didn’t always feel that way about Lewis’s but I am beginning to wonder if JL is about to join Tescos in the list of ferociously successful shops that people would rather avoid if only they weren’t so very good at knowing what customers want. I used to think JL was the acceptable face of high street retailing. It was certainly the best designed department store in Edinburgh, the kind of place you could hang out in comfort, gliding up and down the escalators on wet days when there wasn’t much else to do with the kids.
The company seemed to value their employees (partners indeed) as highly as their customers which led to an almost eccentric way of doing business: closed on Sundays for a day of rest and on Mondays for staff training. Now they open seven days a week like every other supermarket and there seems a newly aggressive thrust to their plans to vastly expand their territory in the UK over the next few years.
Why? Could this signal a revolution in company policy? Is the new management planning a different corporation with shareholders instead of partners? Maybe not, I certainly haven’t spotted any business commentators predicting that kind of shift in direction and a quick Google turned up only reports of record pre-Christmas sales.
Maybe I still hold a grudge against the company because it was against the congestion charge (both in London and Edinburgh). Or maybe I am nostalgic, romanticising about a time when shopping was not a collective addiction. I do still have a battered JL store card in my wallet and remember those good old days when, knackered after the back-to-school shopping expedition, I rewarded the boys for being good with a milk shake and a gingerbread man in the cafeteria looking out over Leith walk to the Forth.
I am not about to tear up the store card but I am very pleased to see that for the first time ever I have come through the Christmas shopping season with my account in credit. I know that hardly hurts old JL but I can at least decide when I want to spend it.
December 30th, 2007
A bit shaky, but for goodness sake, we’re looking down on the big wheel on Princes Street.
I have no head for heights but last week I got a real kick out of climbing the 192 steps of that spindly monument in the middle of St Andrew Square to look down on the building site below. It was almost exactly four years to the day when I sat at my first meeting as a director of Edinburgh City Centre Management to hear an impassioned town planner describe how this private (and somewhat down at heel) garden could be transformed into a welcoming public space.
A lot of consultation has ebbed and flowed round the square since then but now it is really happening – the best thing the company has done while I’ve been on the board.
The great achievement of ECCM has been to start people talking about the need for more and better public space in Edinburgh. Castle Street was a start but St Andrew Square will be much better. By Easter next year there will be a coffee pavilion, maybe a water feature and places for people to sit in the sun and watch the world go by – I think it could be a really great place to hang out.
We had a bright and breezy afternoon for our site visit. A good day for taking pictures if only I had the nerve to stand at the edge of the platform so I could see beyond the scaffolding. (One member of our party was bold enough to climb to the higher platform where he could look Lord Dundas in the face and came down with a photo to prove it!).
I don’t have any pictures of the muddy patch below where the contractors are carving out a crescent for the water feature and a coffee pavilion is quickly taking shape. I’m hoping something else is going to grow out of the space so I will come back to that later. Meanwhile, the site manager is very proud of the transformation they are making: “Be sure you tell everyone about St Andrew Square.”
December 6th, 2007